On Saturday, December 27, 2008, at the Clubhouse at Rancho Solano, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., a reception for an appellation wine tasting was enjoyed by the public. Only wines that have Suisun Valley on their labels were tasted and enjoyed by all who came.

Then, at 7:30 p.m., the evening segued into a winemaker dinner. Wines featured during the dinner were also only Suisun Valley Appellation wines. Winemakers were given the opportunity throughout the reception and dinner to present their winemaking philosophies, and to talk about their particular wines.

The 26th AVA Anniversary Reception | Winemaker Dinner was open to the general public, and many people took the opportunity to enjoy this distinctive evening, exclusive to only Suisun Valley wines.

Now, the REAL story behind their winemaker reception and dinner…

What’s amazing for me is that in 2004, when I first began working with the Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association, there were only three wines that had Suisun Valley on their labels: Wooden Valley, Ledgewood Creek Winery, and Sunset Cellars.

This event (in 2008) now had 13 winemakers pouring and talking about their wines:

  1. Bask Cellars (Brian & Kristie Babcock)
  2. Blacksmith Cellars (Matt Smith)
  3. King Andrews Vineyards (Roger King)
  4. Ledgewood Creek Winery (James Frisbie)
  5. Olabisi (Ted Osborne)
  6. P.B. Hein Vineyards (Paul Hein)
  7. Red Côte (Jose Diaz standing in for Jeff Miller)
  8. Sunset Cellars (Doug Sparks)
  9. Tenbrink Vineyards (Stephen Tenbrink)
  10. Trahan Winery (Chuck Custodio)
  11. Vezer Family Vineyards (Frank Vezer)
  12. Winterhawk Wines (Matt Smith)
  13. Wooden Valley Winery (Rick Lanza)

Other wines not poured during this event, but now existing as Suisun Valley appellated wines:

  1. Boodeaux Vineyards
  2. Croze
  3. Hidden Creek
  4. Koch Wine
  5. Manifesto
  6. Mankas Hills Vineyards
  7. Quioxte Winery
  8. Scholium Project
  9. Shale Peak Vineyards
  10. Terremoto Cellars
  11. Thomas Michael
  12. Twilight Ridge
  13. Suisun Valley Grape Growers wines (the AVA now has its own blended brand)

This is now 26 wine brands with Suisun Valley as an appellated wines, only four years later.

In 2004, when we first began with the SV grape growers, they needed to bring their appellation into the limelight and be appropriately compensated for their meticulous vineyard practices. They needed to have their stories told, in order to establish their credibility.

Prior to establishing a marketing strategy, their entire efforts were put toward their vineyard practices. The squeeze of consolidation of wine brands during the oversupply period of 2005 into 2006 led to the realization that if they didn’t stand their ground, they’d soon be losing their ground (literally and figuratively), segueing into only being known as a commodity AVA.

With the capital investments and vineyard practices for which they had become involved, this simply wasn’t going to work any longer.

In a desperate effort, some vineyard owners – very unhappy with what they were being offered for tonnage prices – preferred to simply drop their crops and let the season go uncompensated. Grape buyers, I’m sure back then, thought the effort stubborn and shortsighted. It was a brilliant move, though, because that brave, singular act caused their paradigm shift for their long haul.

Also, in back room plannings, the grape growers began to get the winemaking “bug” that seems to happen to so many grape growers.

They asked themselves lots of questions:

  • “What’s the potential of my fruit, if I control the entire process from beginning to end?”
  • If they took that kind of control, would they then have great wines that grape buyers would have to respect a bit more?
  • Was it fair for grape buyers to be clumping their fruit into Central Valley commodity-type prices, because Solano County is placed into Central Valley; although, Suisun Valley is actually placed in the North Coast AVA ?
  • Why was the industry NOT recognizing that Suisun Valley is part of the North Coast AVA?

All of these questions had to be answered, and it would mainly come from creating their own brands.

It greatly helped that Roger King’s fruit, under the winemaking efforts of Ted Osborne with his Olabisi Syrah garnered a 90 Score from Wine Spectator’s Jim Laube. Another of Ted’s wines from King’s vineyard went on to garner a 91 score from Spectator. Maybe the first was a fluke? No, the second score, even better than the first, affirmed what they knew, and could now present to grape growers who would have them believe that they were no more than a commodity location…

From that point forward, their confidence was built into a forward moving machine that had no stopping it. The Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative was created with Doug Sparks moving into the valley and bringing many of their own newly created labels to a common ground market place.

This small group of grape growers, banding together for a singular function – to establish their AVA as a top quality production appellation – has had remarkable achievements, based on their strategies:

  • SVGGA hired Turrentine Brokers to help sell their wine to more than the bulk market (February 2004)
  • SVGGA hired Diaz Communications to help them market themselves with PR and a Website. (March 2004)
  • Suisun Valley debuted a buyer-seller forum in order to have more direct sales opportunities (February 2005)
  • Weather stations were installed to augment two existing one at Solano Community College and the Suisun Valley west station placed in mid-valley, in order to gather data and prepare for climate studies. (September 2006)
  • The farmers moved toward helping to craft the new general plan, in order to guarantee that their children’s children will still be able to farm in Suisun Valley, if they so chose to do that. (October 2006)
  • Created a strong strategic plan, taking it from present market conditions into a solidly structured future. (April 2007)
  • Co-op Tasting Room signaled a significant growth spurt. Brands in the Co-operative Tasting Room included King Andrews Vineyards, Shale Peak Vineyards, Sunset Cellars, Twilight Ridge, and Winterhawk.  (June 2007)
  • Signs of growth were spreading throughout the valley. Additional brands appellated to Suisun Valley are Bask Cellars, Koch Wine, Tenbrink, Mankas Hills Vineyards, Vezer Family Vineyard, Croze, Forlorn Hope, Manifesto, Olabisi, Tenbrink, Thomas Michael Cellars, Trahan Winery, Blacksmith Cellars, and Scholium Project. Many of these brands are located out of Suisun Valley; however, the grape growers are coming into Suisun Valley to source great fruit. (September 2007)
  • 25th AVA Celebration called out the entire valley in a successful night of wining and dining. (December 2007)
  • A separate valley event among the wineries was established as part of their 26th AVA celebrations. (December 2007)
  • Grape Growers in Suisun Valley hired Dr. Paul Skinner of Terra Spase, Inc. (April 2008)
  • Suisun Valley AVA Climate & Topography Study Phase I was disclosed to the SVGGA Board of Directors (July 2008)
  • Additional wine brands are discovered as Suisun Valley is approaching their 26th Anniversary. (P.B. Hein, Boodeaux Vineyards, Hidden Creek Cellars, Quixote, Red Cote, and Terremoto Cellars)
  • In a shrinking economy, the 26th AVA Celebration enjoyed another successful night of wining and dining, as well as wineries being overwhelmed with consumers enjoying the valley during the last weekend of the year. (December 2007)

All of this is significant, because we’re all witnessing a valley coming to life, after a very sleepy period of nose-to-the-grindstone.

The grape growers didn’t look up until about late 2003 into early 2004, when major industry shifts made them band together in one unified voice.

What’s evolved can only be viewed as remarkable, self guided evolution.